The European souslik or European ground squirrel (Spermophilus citellus) is one of the threatened rodents of the continent, presently showing a serious decline (see the IUCN Red List account of the species). In Romania the status of the souslik is also deteriorate, although data regarding current distribution, isolation and threats are lacking. In the past years, members of “Milvus Group” Bird and Nature Protection Association carried out surveys in order to assess the present range of the species within the country.
The small mammal survey was developed to identify and inventory the micro-mammal species in the identified hunting ranges of Aquila pomarina pairs. The aim of the survey was to determine the relative abundance of certain small mammal species that constitute prey availability for the Lesser Spotted Eagle (Aquila pomarina), hereby LSE. The survey was conducted according to methodology given by developed protocol. The inventories took place in three Special Protection Areas (SPA), where LSE is one of the priority species. Territories of two breeding pairs (or pairs observed with breeding behavior) were selected in each SPA:
-Dealurile Târnavelor – Valea Nirajului SPA (Mitreşti and Hodosa, Mureş County) hunting range of male Marton and Ehed and their female mates
-Podişul Hârtibaciului SPA (Bârghiş and Iacobeni, Sibiu County) hunting range of male Cingár and Jakab and their female mates
-Piemontul Făgărași SPA (Lisa and Breaza, Brasov County) – the survey was made only partially because of delays in habitat mapping of hunting ranges.
The small mammal survey was begun after determining the hunting range of each pair by locations of satellite tracking. Mapping of habitat on an area of 3×4 km followed. This area was considered as the hunting range of one pair of LSE identified by movements of satellite tracked birds and combined with field observations. The main used survey method was the capture-mark-recapture. Live trapping was conducted on transects in 10 different habitat types: meadow, open grazing field (without trees and bushes), grazing fields with significant amount of bushes (min 50%), grazing field with scattered trees and bushes, maize, cereals with ear, alfalfa, parcel edges or bush-lands and unused areas, abandoned agricultural fields, forest edge. In each hunting range we used 15 trap lines. Each trap line contained 40 traps, which were set for 3 days. Data on micro-mammal fauna and relative abundance is expressed through captures / 100 trap nights. At the moment we are analyzing the data collected. The results will be delivered till March 2011. Here we present some preliminary conclusions:
-the most common species were Apodemus flavicollis, A. agrarius and Microtus arvalis.
-the highest abundance (57 captures /100 trap nights) was recorded on an abandoned agricultural field of the hunting range of Marton and its female mate
– higher abundance was also recorded on the forest edges and meadows
-the micro-mammal density differs much more between hunting ranges than it does between habitat types.
The knowledge about the distribution of the Otter (Lutra lutra) in Romania is limited to some insular observations. It was known that the otter is still widespread distributed along the streams, rivers and the Danube Delta but there are no relevant information for determination of the most important areas for its conservation. Otter is one of the priority species for the Natura 2000 sites. Although in that circumstances is quite difficult to delimitate the most important areas for it in many biogeografical regions. Our aim is to serve reliable data for designation of Natura 2000 sites for otter. Beginning of 01-24-2009 we surveyed the otter presence along two relative natural rivers, in Niraj and Târnava Mica (Mureş county). The survey was done using the IUCN standard method noted separately the permanent and only occasional presence of the otter, as well as compliting a standard forms about the survey circumstances and habitat characteristics.
After the first snowfall we have started the snowtracking in Bistra Valley – in the area of wolfpack territory. During the snowfall on 22nd-23th November in the valley of Bistra and Galaoaia river we found only one track of an average sized bear. On 13th-14th December we were tracking a middle sized femal bear with cub which was searching for beechnuts on the ground and under the snow in a forest. According to the signs we found that the bears were searching for food several times in the same place with old beech trees. We found also the wolfpack of the Bistra Valley. Before the first snowfall in the middle of November they stealthily caught and consumed 2 sheep on the pasture in the opposite side of the Bistra river. In the middle of December they killed a sheep in the garden of a house. This time we found their tracks in a crest where they are usually searching for wild prey. Their pack has minimum 4 members. On 20th-21st December we could not found in fresh snow any sign of wolf and bear activity.
The survey of otter presence had begun in august 2008 along the streams crossed by bridges and roads.
We had collected the otter spraints and other different signs, which are showing if the otters use the stream section regularly or only occasionally. By this survey, we are trying to recover the lack of reliable data about present otter distribution in Romania in order to gather necessary information for designation of Natura 2000 sites.
The possible passages under future highways and roads will be identified. At the same time, we had collected data about the bridge suitability for otter’s passing.
In autumn 2008, we visited 15 different shepherd camps in two different regions of Transylvania: the southwestern part of the Calimani mountains foothill area and the southeastern part of the Giurgeului basin. Initially the survey’s aim was to identify some sheepdog characteristics, which lead them to meet the requirements in a region where predators like wolves and bears are present and the depredation could mean a real problem. The method we used was the personal communication and filling a questionnaire with the shepherd about their dogs and damages. In addition, in case of shepherd’s assistance, we gained also individual data about the dogs and we took their measurements (height at withers and weight). We had found and compared some big-tailed foreign sheepdog races (non-traditional in Europe) which are used as sheepdogs.
In autumn 2008, we were continuing to study the bear diet in two different areas of the Calimani, respectively Gurghiului Mt. foothill area.
We based the diet study on the macroscopic analysis of all bear excrements found in an orchard, respectively in a forest, bush land or pasture area. This way we could find out which type of food is the most important and how is each of it important for the bears during the hyperphagic period, when the bears are gaining the fat for hibernation. We identified also the most important locations where the food is available in order to preserve it and avoid damages or other conflicts with humans.
In summer 2008, we had analyzed some of the hilly areas in the southwestern part of the Calimani Mountains, which are very important for the bear survival. This activity was voluntary-based and its aim was to gather an important data for designing the areas of Special Conservation Interest (SCI) for the Brown Bear (Ursus arctos) in the continental bioregion. We identified an important area which enable the wild animals (including the bears) to pass from the foothill of the Calimani Mountains to the lower hilly area. The crossing area is avoiding the adjacent agricultural lands.
Our study was comparing the density and the signs of bear activity, as well as the natural food availability and other important factors.
On the 3rd of May 2008 one specimen of northern birch mouse (Sicista betulina) was caught in the southern part of Gheorgheni basin, Harghita county, by members of Milvus Group. This is the 9th proving specimen and the 6th known location of the species in the country. The northern birch mouse is a boreal species, inhabiting the forest and steppe-forests zone of northern Asia and the eastern and northern part of Europe. In the Carpathians the species is likely to have a relict character, having previously been identified in Romania only in Rodnei, Gurghiului, Ceahlău and Rarău mountains (Eastern Carpathians), as well as in Bucegi mountains (Southern Carpathians). The last observation of the species dates back to 1996. The captured animal is an adult male, showing all characteristics of the species. The habitat in which it was caught (swampy meadow with young birch trees) is a new one for the species in Romania, though it is a known habitat type in northern Europe according to foreign literature.